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Education: Students lead protest to retain teachers

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A group of students have launched a campaign to get Lowcountry Preparatory School to retain three teachers who weren’t offered contracts next year.

The announcement of the hiring decision before the spring break caused an outcry from students and parents.

The students, who asked that their names not be used because they are concerned about retaliation, started a petition drive and have asked for a question-and-answer session with the headmaster.

Last month, in an e-mail to the school, headmaster Scott Gibson wrote, “a number of good folks will be moving on to the bigger and better things of proverb.” Those included three teachers from the upper school: Gary Gates, Michelle Neubauer and Shannon Lewis.

“Each of them has played a role in shaping the distinct culture of our school. We thank them for their constructive contributions,” Gibson wrote before turning to other topics.

But students said they had already heard the news. “Over half of the upper school student body literally cried in their classrooms or in the bathrooms,” they wrote in their petition letter.

They said the e-mail to the school was disingenuous. “Our teachers were fired. Period,” they wrote.

Gibson, who became headmaster last year, did not return a message left at the school office.

David Grabeman, president of the school’s trustee board, said he hadn’t seen the letter from the students. “I can say no one was fired,” he said. The contracts were not renewed.

That’s an “internal matter,” Grabeman said. “As a board, we’re not involved in personnel.”

While he has heard from some parents, Grabeman said, “it’s probably a very small number of people making a lot of noise.”

He questioned the claim that 85 percent of the upper school students had signed the letter.

Gates is the head of the upper and middle schools. He also teaches history and calculus. He said he couldn’t comment on the situation, “for obvious reasons.”

His loss will be particularly felt, students said. “He helped create most of the traditions” in his 13 years at the school, a student said.

Lewis is the head of the English department. Neubauer teaches science.

One of the petition organizers said they are a small group, but that there are many other students who agree with them.

There are about 40 upper school students. The organizers have received over 60 signatures on their petition from current and former students. They have not presented the petition to Gibson.

To show opposition to the hiring decision, they wore black for the week before spring break. They planned a sit-in, but called it off.

They admit not everyone shares their view. “Some students say ‘the colonel was brought in to make changes, he has his reasons,’ ” one student said. Gibson is a retired Air Force officer.

But she said she would like him to share those reasons. “It’s a big family, it’s like you’re taking away our parents,” in letting the teachers go, she said.

“We’re not doing this to cause problems,” she added. “We love our school and we love our teachers.”

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